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E-Book - The Colony - Stories from a Down East Island
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The islands of Penobscot Bay, Maine, hold a special place in the American imagination, and are as exotic in their own way as the Aleutian Islands or the Florida Keys or the sand islets in the passes of the Louisiana Gulf Coast. A particular breed of innovative and very hardy fishing and farming families settled them—particular in that unlike almost any other demographic in America, many of them were equally comfortable and adept at planting and harvesting, mowing hay, woodcutting and carpentry, as they were at commercial fishing and handling boats, boatbuilding, clamming. Perhaps at no place or time on earth were farming and seafaring so expertly married in single fam- ilies, in single individuals. The lore and myths, humor and culture of every- thing we think of as “Downeast” came out of this remarkable time. It was a short-lived and colorful phenomenon. The islands were settled just as The United States of America was coming into being, and within a hundred and fifty years the agrarian and fishing economies were almost wholly supplanted by an economy centered around the caretaking and provisioning of “Summer People”, with a small percentage of families continuing to make a living off the sea in lobster boats.
What makes The Colony so peculiar and wonderful is that it follows the close history of a single family through the entirety of this unique era and up to the present day, and probably could have been written by only a handful of people. Pete Beveridge was born into the last days of the island’s true working subsistence farms when hay was forked up by hand and families still built their own houses, and his interests and passions as a boy led him to learn and prac- tice as much as he could of these skills. He handled a two man crosscut saw and learned to clam and hay and build houses. But he was also blessed by being born into a family of scholarly uncles and aunts who collected priceless oral histories from relatives and neighbors, and kept detailed archives of fam- ily history. Pete himself became a dedicated historian and genealogist.
The voices come through out of the past in the cadences of a time and place that will never exist again. And the daily details of those lives are almost tactile: What was it like to row eight miles at night to the mainland to fetch a doctor and then bring him back in the same rowboat before morning?
To raise eight children with no running water, with a single horse to plow and skid and ride? How does it feel to mow four acres by oneself with a scythe? What were the daily chores, the threats and joys. What was seaweed used for, and how did they fit thirty neighbors into a tiny parlor for a dance—and why did the fiddler have to press himself into a nook next to the pantry? Could a kid ever top the thrill of running down to Marsh Cove and seeing a weir filled with so many herring you could practically run across them? And when the farms and fisheries could no longer survive and most descendants moved to the towns of the mainland and became teachers, why did they return every summer, all summer, year after year, and build cottages and houses and plant large gardens, and try to educate their children in island ways?